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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                     41

And so he hobbled along the snow-covered road for
two days, throwing out his staff, resting upon it and
drawing his feet up. By this time his feet were quite numb
and felt nothing, but his body was convulsed with pain at
every step. He no longer felt the pangs of hunger. The
spasms and cutting pains in his stomach had become a
dull, constant ache, as if the empty stomach had hardened
and turned, pressing against his insides.
Alexei's food consisted of young pine bark which he
stripped off the trees with his dirk in his rest intervals,
the buds of birch- and lime-trees, and also the soft, green
moss which he dug up from under the snow and stewed in
boiling water during his nightly bivouacs. A joy to him
was the "tea" he brewed from lacquered bilberry leaves
which he gathered on thawed patches of ground. The hot
liquid sent a warm glow through his whole body and even
created the illusion of satiety. Sipping the hot brew that
smelt of smoke and leaves, he felt soothed, and his journey
did not seem so endless and terrible.
On his sixth bivouac he again lay under the green
tent of a spreading fir-tree and lit his fire round an old,
resinous tree stump, which, he calculated, would smoulder
and give off heat the whole night. It was still light. Over-
head an invisible squirrel was busy in the top branches of
the fir-tree, shelling fir-cones and throwing the empty
and mutilated cones to the ground. Alexei, whose mind
was now constantly concentrated on food, wondered what
it was that the squirrel found in the cones. He picked up
a cone, stripped off one of the scales and beneath it found
a winged seed about the size of a millet grain. In ap-
pearance it looked like a tiny cedar nut. He put the seed
in his mouth, crushed it between his teeth and felt the
pleasant flavour of cedar oil.
He collected a few fir-cones that were lying around,
put them on the fire, added a handful of brushwood, and
when the cones opened from the heat he shook the seeds
into his hand, crushed them between his palms, blew the
winged husks away and threw the tiny nuts into his